Historic Sites

As Long as the Creeks and Rivers Run: Traces of the Lenni Lenape – Part II: Along the Schuylkill

By Shawn Evans, Atkin Olshin Schade Architects

Part I of this tour traced Lenni Lenape places along the Delaware River. The tour continues up the Schuylkill River.

One of the largest Lenape settlements was located on the eastern shore of the Schuylkill, just north of the Delaware. Numerous spellings of this area have been recorded, among them Pachsegink and Pachsegonk, meaning “in the valley.” i Now an industrial area along the riverbanks, Passyunk survives in name as one of the diagonal roads that cut through the city grid. Frequently referred to an “Indian trail,” a portion of the street east of Broad (seen here in 1946) has recently been rebranded with large cast Indian head medallions set into the sidewalk. Historical photographs of the League Island Park (now FDR Park) prior to its re-grading by the Olmsted Brothers in 1914 provide views of how this part of town may have appeared during Lenape inhabitation.

Across the river from Passyunk was Kingsessing, the Lenape name for the land between the Schuylkill River and Cobbs Creek. Kingessing is derived from Chingsessing, meaning “a place where there is a meadow.” ii A Lenape village known as Arronemink, alternatively spelled “Aroenameck,” “Arronemink,” and “Arromink,” was located at the mouth of Mill Creek, which flowed into the Schuylkill just south of the Woodlands Cemetery. A post on the Woodland Indians Forum identified a possible meaning of Arronemink as “place where the fish cease,” a possible reference to natural falls in this area.iii Coaquannock, “grove of tall pines” was a Lenape settlement north of Center City on the east bank of the Schuylkill.iv

The next village up the Schuylkill was Nittabakonk, “place of the warrior.” v Located on the east bank of the river, just south of the Wissahickon Creek, this area is now known as East Falls. There are no falls in the river in the vicinity any longer, as the 1822 construction of the Fairmount Dam substantially raised the water level in this area. This part of the river was known to the Lenape as Ganshewahanna, meaning “noisy water.” vi This 1910 photo of the City Line Bridge shows the water after they were quieted.

The Wissahickon creek retains its Lenape name. The Anglicized spelling is believed to be derived from Wisameckhan, meaning “catfish stream.” vii The Wissahickon Valley Park is among the best places in Philadelphia to see a largely unaltered natural landscape. A variety of bridges span the creek, including smaller bridges for pedestrians accessible within the park, as well as large engineering marvels like the Henry Avenue Bridge that connects opposite hillsides and communities not visible within the park. A statue of a Lenape warrior, carved in 1902 by John Massey Rhind, kneels on a cliff overlooking the Creek near Rex Avenue.viii

Perhaps the place name most associated today with the Lenape is Manayunk. This Lenape word simply means river, literally “place where we go to drink,” and does not specifically refer to the Schuylkill River or any particular place on its banks.ix As with most Lenape place names, several spellings have been utilized including Mëneyung, Meneiunk, and Manaiung. The last of these spellings is used in the correspondence between William Penn and the Lenape. Manayunk was selected as the name for this growing neighborhood in 1824.x Manayunk remains a place to drink, although no longer from the river itself.

The 1682 Treaty of Friendship was forged in Shackamaxon (see Part I) with the assumption that the rivers and creeks of Philadelphia would always run – this would of course not be the case.xi In 1737, the Lenape were tricked by William Penn’s sons into relocating to nearby river valleys and were eventually forced by the federal government to relocate to Oklahoma.xii Two federally recognized tribes of Lenape remain in Oklahoma today, the Delaware Nation (aka Western Delaware) and the Delaware Tribe of Indians (aka Eastern Delaware) with populations of 1,422 and 10,529 respectively. The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, a community of Native Americans in the Lehigh Valley is not federally recognized but is actively reviving their language and culture.xiii The exhibit, “Fulfilling the Prophecy: the Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania,” on display through 2011 at the Penn Museum presents the story of the Lenape who managed to stay behind during the forced migrations.xiv The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania is currently seeking state recognition and a new Treaty of Friendship is collecting signatures.


[i] Cotter, John L., Daniel G. Roberts, and Michael Parrington. The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992, p.28.

[ii] Mary Maples Dunn and Richard S. Dunn. “The Founding, 1681-1701.” In Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. ed. Russell F. Weigley. New York: W.W. Norton Co., 1982, p.4.

[iii] “Arronimink.” Woodland Indians Forum., accessed 6/23/2010.

[iv] Cotter, p.27.

[v] Cotter, p.27.

[vi] “A History of East Falls.” Preserve Philadelphia Website., accessed 6/23/2010.

[vii] Cotter, p.29.

[viii] Friends of Wissahickon website,, accessed 6/23/2010.

[ix] Cotter, p.29.

[x] “Plan Philly: Main Street Manyunk,”, accessed 6/23/2010.

[xi] See Philly H2O: The History of Philadelphia’s Watersheds., accessed 6/23/2010.

[xii] Delaware Tribe website,, accessed 6/23/2010.

[xiii] Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania website,, accessed 6/23/2010.

[xiv] Penn Museum website,, accessed 6/23/2010.